“As we see no economic need or regional interest, your visa is denied.” I sat in a Starbucks on Heidelbreg's famous Hauptstrasse street reading the email over and over again. Tears welled up in my eyes and I called my husband and let him know: “We didn't get approved for the visa. What the hell will we do?” He reassured me, “We'll figure it out. We have to.” The story of getting a visa luckily has a happy ending, but it was a daunting process and one I haven't been able to share until now.
In case you missed part one, I shared the story how how we moved abroad. That alone was quite a doozy, but I had no idea that we would then be denied once we were in the country.
After spending years saving up and researching Michael and I decided to move to Heidelberg, Germany to experience and travel Europe. We planned on moving in August, but our plan got delayed because of a large life event. After battling an acute form of breast cancer for years, Michael's mother passed away. While we knew she had cancer, the fact that she passed away from it so quickly was rather shocking. We delayed the move and came to Heidelberg in September.
Before we arrived, we spent the better part of six months trying to lay the ground work for a move abroad. Now, when most people move abroad they have a job. This means they'll get a work visa. Or, another option is to be a student or an au pair. But not us. We were moving over purely as expats. Since blogging IS my job and Michael quit his, we were moving over in the hopes of getting a freelance visa. As you can imagine, there isn't much information out there on how to move abroad without a job or as a student. So we were already flying by the seat of our pants.
Once we got to Heidelberg, we quickly agreed that this was an incredible place to live. It truly felt like a fairy tale. Coming from Dallas, Texas the climate was enjoyable, the castle was glimmering over the river, and flowers were blooming everywhere. I sincerely haven't seen this many flowers before moving to Europe. We walked the streets and marveled at the loveliness of our new city. These photos are the actual ones I snapped upon our arrival.
We promptly moved into our new temporary home in a hotel. This tiny room contained all of our belongings, us, and the two dogs. So we were eager to find a place to live quickly. To give you a good picture, for 5 weeks we had no kitchen, no refrigerator, and no place to put our stuff. We sat up in bed at night and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sometimes a bit of cheese and sausage and would watch “Stranger Things.” I felt like I was living in an alternate reality, just waiting for my life in Europe to start.
We hit the ground running by contacting local rental properties, real estate agents, websites, and more. It was challenging. We even went directly to offices to get in touch with companies to see what was available for rent. Each day we'd check our email in the hopes of seeing a new property available then set off to view properties in the area.
Through our research we knew that house hunting would be a bit different here than it was in America, but we had no idea what was in store. Looking at properties felt a bit like a job interview. You go in, sometimes with a group of others, check out the property, then need to make a good impression on the landlord or seller. They want to feel like they are lending the property to the right kind of people.
I can remember one house in particular, Michael and I were completely exhausted, and this new place felt like a sure bet. We'd been living in a hotel for over 3 weeks and just wanted a place of our own. We arrived to look at the house and a few other couples were there as well. We made friends with the current owners and even exchanged numbers. At the end of the house tour the landlord asked if we had any questions. We said no, but we were very very interested. We could see he had another showing, so we waited around until he was finished to let him know we were ready to move in.
“What are you still doing here?” He asked after shaking hands with the last couple. “We like the place and are ready to move in!” we squealed with delight. “So… you accept my offer?” he said through a pensive expression. “Yes!” we answered together. “Well, that's a problem. The other couple, they already accepted my offer.”
I blurted out, “But we were here first!” Without hesitation, Michael started in, “Look, we'll pay you an additional 50 euro a month. How about that?”
He looked at us back and forth and again said, “So you accept my offer?” We just stood there, dumbfounded. Until he added, “No.” We walked home over 2 miles, our head in our hands.
But of course, we weren't done yet. Then there was the crazy landlord who showed up to our hotel after we declined the property because a neighbor tried to poison their dogs! I have so many stories, but the last one is the best.
After over 5 weeks living in a hotel, I get sick. Michael goes without me to look at an apartment. He calls me and I can hear the melancholy tone in his voice, “We didn't get it.” Unfazed, I open up my laptop to start looking at where we need to go next. Michael comes back, with both hands behind his back. “What are you hiding?” I ask. “I wanted to surprise you, we got the place!” I screamed with joy and jumped up and down on the bed. I had no idea where it was or what it looked like but I was just so ready to go, I couldn't believe it.
The day we moved in I was shocked. The place was a stone's throw away from the river and park and I could walk out and see the castle anytime I wanted. In both Dallas and Nashville, I always lived a bit outside the city center, and it was so fun to be in the heart of it all. I truly felt like I was experiencing European lifestyle: riding my bike everywhere, walking to cafes, and going to the weekly market.
Michael started right away by building furniture. You see, we are very cheap, plus we know we aren't going to live here forever. And I'd like to add I don't care much for decor (I know, I didn't get that gene). Also, there just aren't any garage sales and we couldn't pick things up on Craigslist without a car, so he decided to DIY it. He went to Bauhaus (much like a Lowe's hardware store) and would take the tram home carrying wood or cement blocks. Truthfully, he did most of the grunt work, while I worked on the blog (if you recall from the first post, Michael quit his job so we were on one salary, mine). Although I did help occasionally. I'll never forget carrying 5 cement blocks over a mile to our house. I was sore for a week.
Despite the struggle, we were brimming with joy at being out of a hotel and into a home.
The internet had yet to be installed so I was working on a post in a Starbucks and checked my email to learn that, somehow, our visa had been denied. As I wrote in the first paragraph of this post, they saw no need for us to live here. It was a devastating blow and I felt like my hands were tied: how could we prove to the country we should live here? Michael didn't miss a beat, he called a lawyer and we drove to a nearby town (Mannheim) to work directly with someone who knows about the immigration policy.
The next day we met with our lawyer. She made me feel confident that she could win the case and started first by getting out temporary visa prolonged. Everyday, we carried around lengthy paperwork to prove that we were allowed to still stay in the country. A bit of background, for countries in the EU they have what's called a Schengen visa. You are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days, no problem. After 90 days, you need to go back home (or travel somewhere else) or, get yourself a visa. Ours was just about to expire so first we had to prolong it.
My next step was to work with a German company on creating a business plan more in line with the German policies. My already 25 page business plan had to be updated and I needed to show profits from my business (this blog) from the past three years plus future income and expenses predicted for the next three. I spent months and months meeting weekly with an advisor and readying the plan. Then, she translated the entire thing into German.
A few months later, with our lawyer's help, my new business plan, and some additional paperwork, we were ready to resubmit our application for our visa. Unfortunately, our lawyer had fallen very ill to the point that she couldn't work anymore. After not hearing back from the office they finally let us know we'd be working with someone else, but all would still go to plan. They had already submitted the paperwork for us and we again had to wait in limbo to hear back.
Of course, it didn't go through. The German office in Heidelberg was requesting some additional documents such as income statements and more. So, we decided to meet with our lawyer's office face-to-face to make sure we had everything in order before submitting our visa again. We sat in a tepid office room (no ac in Europe) and I tapped my fingers and bit my nails as we shuffled through the paperwork.
But Michael noticed something amiss on the cover page of the entire document. My blog name was written incorrectly. Instead of www.heleneinbetween.com it was www.helene-in-between.com. THIS was the part of the paperwork that had already been submitted. I thought I was going to throw up, right then and there. Holding back tears I thought quickly. I immediately bought the domain name “helene-in-between” and rerouted it to heleneinbetween.com. I crossed my fingers (and toes) all would be okay. Now, it was just time to wait.
Two months later I got a call from our lawyer's office. A young woman sang brightly over the phone, “Hallllooooo! You've been approved!”
I was so happy I started to cry. All of that effort and stress was worth it! After a year of trying to live in Germany, we were finally allowed to do so. Michael and I celebrated with dinner at the Michelin star restaurant in the castle in Heidelberg.
I hope that my story helps you in some small way. Maybe you want to move abroad or simply want to accomplish some big goal. Whatever it is, just know that you most likely will have bumps in the road that might make you question your dreams. But if it's something you truly want, if you know in your heart that it's meant to be, then take every effort to make it happen. Thank you so much for being part of my story, and I can't wait to share more of our adventures abroad!